Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Introduce ‘Smart on Crime’ Legislation to Raise the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction

March 2015

Post Author

Rob Thompson, NC Child

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Introduce ‘Smart on Crime’ Legislation to Raise the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction North Carolina is one of only two states to charge all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

RALEIGH—This morning, Rep. Marilyn Avila (R-Wake) announced the introduction of HB399, the Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act. This legislation would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, so that 16- and 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors are handled in the juvenile system, not the adult criminal justice system. According to Rep. Avila, the lead bill sponsor, ‘raising the age’ is a win for our families, communities, and state finances.

“Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction will lead to both significant fiscal savings, safer communities, and much better outcomes for children,” stated Rep. Avila. “That’s why a strong bipartisan majority of House members voted to approve the bill last year.”

During the 2013-2014 legislative session, ‘Raise the Age’ legislation overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives, but failed to receive a hearing in the Senate.

Marc Levin of Right on Crime and the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation co-authored a report on raising the age issued by the John Locke Foundation in 2013. Today, Levin said:“I am pleased that North Carolina policymakers are increasingly recognizing that high school-aged youngsters who commit a misdemeanor belong in the juvenile justice system where better outcomes for public safety and taxpayers can be achieved. Only in the juvenile system do parents of a 16 or 17 year-old have the right to be informed and involved, which is critical for the long-term success of these youth.”

Levin’s focus on improved outcomes for children was echoed by Michelle Hughes, Executive Director of NC Child, a statewide child advocacy group that has led the ‘Raise the Age’ movement: “A criminal conviction in the adult criminal justice system saddles a youth with a criminal record that will undermine his or her future chances at gainful employment, higher education, military service, and even stable housing. It’s no wonder that recidivism rates among 16-and 17-year olds handled by the adult criminal justice system are more than twice as high as those served by the juvenile justice system.”

North Carolina is one of only two states that automatically prosecutes all 16- and 17-year-old alleged misdemeanants as adults, even for low-level offenses like stealing a bag of Doritos. New York, the only other remaining state to automatically prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, is expected to pass legislation changing its law later this spring, which would leave North Carolina as the only remaining state with this outdated and ineffective policy.

Craig DeRoche, Executive Director of Justice Fellowship, the advocacy arm of Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship, provided a faith-based perspective on the issue:  “Regardless of their crime, North Carolina brands its children outcasts for the rest of their lives. Automatically burdening youth with an adult criminal record disregards their worth and potential as human beings created in the image of God.  Proportionate accountability for youth is best provided by the juvenile justice system where families, churches, and communities can be more directly involved.”